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New Books and ARCs, 1/5/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 17:32
A new year, a new stack of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Which of these works would you like to be one of your first reads of 2018? Tell us in the comments!

Thoughts on My 30th High School Reunion

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:07
This last October I went to my 30th reunion at my high school, and had a very lovely time of it; I did a reading for my former classmates and others, hung around with old friends and generally enjoyed the company of people I had known for decades now. My school asked me to write […]

Strange visitors from beyond...

Contrary Brin - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 15:05
Oumuamua surprises! The first confirmed and clearly observed visitor from interstellar space has everyone agog. Instruments like ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile show that this unique object - traveling through space for millions of years - appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal content object. It varies dramatically in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. About ten times as long as it is wide, Oumuamua exhibits a complex, convoluted shape... So let me guide you through some aspects of this new scientific wonder.
1) Breakthrough Listen used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to aim SETI instruments at Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid visitor that - (sorry) shows every sign of being just a rock.  And so, despite its weird - even spaceship-like elongated (cigar-ish) profile - is probably not a giant space-probe, like Arthur C. Clarke (who turned 100 December 17) depicted in Rendezvous With Rama. Or Greg Bear’s even more spectacular Thistledown, from Eon.
Still, I have to wonder… have the SETI guys aimed their scopes also at the direction Oumuamua came from? And where (after a hyperbolic swing past our sun) it’s now going? Might our sun have been a swing-by course correction?
2) Note that this won’t be the last! Our instrumentalities have improved so much that we should be spotting more such interstellar visitors from now on, perhaps yearly!  And yes, you are a member of a great, scientific civilization that does stuff like this!
3) At first, astronomers were shocked to see no signs of a comet-like tail from outgassing, as Oumuamua swung past the sun. Theory suggests that the vast majority of small objects flung from planetary systems should be icy.
But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface. The way that 'Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to icy objects from our own Solar System that are covered with a dry crust. Perhaps carbon rich molecules fused by long exposure to interstellar ultraviolet.
Saving ego for last, let me point out that this model - icy small bodies accumulating layers of insulating dust that choke off outgassing over time, happens to be - in the words of a Monty Python character - “mine.”
My own doctoral work at UCSD, way back in 1981, first laid down the theory and simulations of accumulated dust layers or mantles on comets and other bodies, eventually putting them to 'sleep.'
My scientific work has been sparse, as I pursued a wide variety of careers. But a few of my hits might merit remembering.
== More space news ==
My friend William Schopf of UCLA found what he claimed to be the oldest known example of life on Earth, dated back 3.5 billion years. Some doubted the objects, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, were actually bacteria and microbes. Since then, technology has improved. Schopf and his colleague were able to connect specific carbon-isotope ratios to specific fossil shapes—essentially, enabling them to identify a handful of different ancient living beings. After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane. Wow.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the TV series “Closer To Truth” gets to ask deep questions of some pretty deep minds. I was privileged to be interviewed for: How should we approach the question of 'are we alone?' "David Brin walks through the logic, along with Jill Tarter, Frank Drake, Francisco Ayala, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrum and others. "
The Planetary Society (I'm on the Advisory Board) is running a contest for Haikus About Space! Here's one - translated from the original dolphin-Trinary:

Oceans everywhere!Ice roof sheltered, life……may fill the cosmos.
A newly discovered pair of massive black holes, orbiting each other very closely in just 80 or so days, has been discovered in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Preliminary estimates suggest the pair will collide and merge into one black hole “in as little as 350 years or as much as 360,000 years.” When that happens, the show (especially in gravitational radiation) should be very impressive.   (Hm, well, on more careful reading…  we’re seeing them through Andromeda. They may be 2.6 billion light-years behind (1000 times farther away than the Andromeda Galaxy! Still a great show... but somewhat less dazzling.)
A “zombie” star that appears to have gone supernova… and survived.  Perhaps even several times. Really weird.
A new planet in the neighborhood! In 71,000 years, it will become our closest neighbor, and Ross 128 will be the closest temperate planet.
Meanwhile… preliminary evidence for a second planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. I’m a little doubtful.
In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally get a good look at this gun
Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 
The first and only cat sent into space – Felicette – was sent up by France in 1963. 
A cool new telescope company has a Kickstarter. Skip the expensive and complex secondary optics and use the prime focus to do images digitally.  Alas,  in fact, their imitation of Newtonian optics for viewing is silly. Skip to a VR goggles method. Contact me, I know exactly how to do it and who can implement!
Another player!  Spaceflight startup Vector — which specializes in micro-rockets — plans to launch its first orbit-bound vehicles from Virginia in mid-2018.  The Vector-R is a four-story-high vehicle that can loft satellites weighing up to 145 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The other vehicle is the Vector-H, which is larger, and capable of carrying 350 pounds to LEO.  They hope for hundreds of launches per year.

== Nukes in Space ==
Interesting developments in space nuclear power: “NASA is developing reactors for spacecraft propulsion and for a planetary power source, with the goal of having both available for a crewed mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. But although the agency is advancing a reactor technology that uses low-enriched uranium (LEU), containing less than 20% of 235U for propulsion, its planetary power source, known as Kilopower, utilizes weapons-grade uranium enriched to 90% or more 235U.
“Nonproliferation advocacy organizations have objected to the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU, material containing 20% or more 235U); they say an LEU design, although it would require more time to develop, would be feasible and consistent with US policy.”
Solar energy’s attractiveness is reduced on the Red Planet  because the solar flux reaching Mars is much less than Earth’s and varies greatly depending on the season and geographic position. In addition, Martian dust storms can last for months. Although solar flux on the Moon is comparable to that received on Earth, nonpolar missions would experience a long lunar night period of half a month, which would require massive energy storage.

There is also testing of a nuclear rocket.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Hey, You Know What’s Fun?

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 12:17
Reading a TV script based on something you wrote and thinking, “that’s a bit of all right, that is.” Can’t tell you more at the moment, I’m afraid. But I think you’re going to enjoy it one day. Enjoy your Thursday!

The 2018 Awards Consideration Post

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 20:03
Another year, another quick post to let you know what work I have for you to consider for awards and such. Ready? Here we go: Best Novel: The Collapsing Empire (3/21/17; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor) Best Related Work/Non-fiction/Collection: Don’t Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017 (12/31/17; Subterranean […]

Our mother ocean in peril

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 00:13
At the recent FiRe Conference I got to sit down with my friend, the mighty ocean explorer Sir Roger Payne, who manages to maintain his optimism, despite regularly seeing - with both eyes and instruments - the terrible damage we’ve done to Earth’s resilient ecosystem. Roger knows that doomcasting is an indignant habit that hinders us from attacking problems with confident optimism.  Optimism based on some real positive news! Like the growing populations of whales, who provide some of the most important fertilization services, at sea.
Here is an online article that proposes an assertive, ocean-focused program aimed at two ends: (1) Fertilizing barren regions for nature and food production. (A majority of ocean area is “desert” some of it caused by humans hunting whales almost to extinction.) And (2) ideally drawing lots of carbon out of the atmosphere. 
“David Brin points out that ocean-fertilization is the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.” 

Yes, though I've pointed out that it’s more complex. Across 8000 years, humans have “added water to land” and crude irrigation was disastrous in those regions with poor drainage, where salts accumulate and cause deserts. In contrast, some sites with good drainage and fine traditions have been irrigated for thousands of years, without harm.

See The Planet Remade: How Geo-engineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton.
The sea equivalent of stimulating life is “adding land to water” - as nature herself does, with upwelling currents off Chile and the Grand Banks. Alas, our 'contributions' went badly in regions with poor drainage, like the Caspian and Black Seas, which have been killed by agricultural fertilizer runoff… and the Mediterranean and Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which are under dire threat. The most vibrant parts of the ocean are where nutrient upwellings feed into strong currents. There are some strong current areas that could benefit from human supplied nutrients.
And yes, this may qualify as “geo-engineering” or G.E. And yes, all geo-engineering proposals merit skeptical criticism and burdens of proof, especially of reversibility!  Ideally, any G.E. proposal should be one that can be tested in small scale and hence inherently recoverable experiments. Near term, modest efforts at ocean fertilization satisfy those requirements. But this article takes the notion much, much farther, into territory of science fiction. (And is that a bad thing?)
== Mother of Waters ==
The Futurism site has a series of interesting articles on how our world’s habitability might be preserved and/or we might terraform other worlds.
The most-feared consequence of climate change is not an acceleration of unstable weather. Oh, we’re seeing that, all right, with heightened hurricane seasons, gyrations in El Niños, wildfires, glacier loss and arctic-conveyor-freezing winters... well as ocean acidification (see more on this, below.) 

Nor is the biggest danger from spreading deserts and the swarm of tropical diseases now targeting the U.S. South.
No, our top worry is a “blurp”… the possibility that the warming trend might trigger release of methane trapped in sub-sea ices or in tundra or even in regular topsoil.  Now see how the latter of these fears is now utterly proved by careful and repeated scientific studies. 

Now the good news.   “All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. “Lesser” emitters are another story. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels." (See more below.)

The lesson? Coal barons, oil sheiks, petro boyars and their parroting media fought to delay this, but innovative men and women refused to be held back. Some of you are among those heroes!  And some are among the villains who tried to prevent these breakthroughs that might yet save us. 

If you voted for the madmen who are now raising carbon fuel subsidies and trying to cripple sustainables, I have three thoughts for you: (1) You are too late. (2) You - yes you - are among the villains. And (3) this time, we'll remember. And your homes will go to climate refugees.

Oh, here’s that link about terraforming.

== Returning to the sea... ==

A rich source of inspiring indie documentaries is FiRe Films. For example, seven years ago I touted a great film “Chasing Ice,” which tracked with dramatic time lapse photography the catastrophic collapse of glaciers all over the globe, including huge losses along the entire coast of Greenland. A spectacular movie in its own right, filled with courage, suspense and adventure, it also showed with utter decisiveness the effects of global warming. 

(Alas, the Denialist Cult is expert at moving goal posts. The very same folks who cried “prove to us there’s any warming!” then shifted their cant and yelled, “sure it's warming! Now prove it’s not natural!” And when proof is provided, the shout turns to: "Squirrel!")

So now I’ve viewed a sequel, “Chasing Coral,” a gorgeous work of adventure/nature film-making that was unveiled at the 2017 FiRe Conference in Utah, in October. It also nails decisively how two effects of climate change — warming and acidification — are killing the vast, rich seascapes that are the nurseries for a majority of sea life. A feast of beauty, admiration, adventure and deep worry.

And let’s be clear, the acidification can only have come from human generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ask your denialist cultist cousin to explain it otherwise and he can’t, because Fox always changes the subject when acidification comes up. (Seriously, say those two words - ocean acidification - to any Fox-cultist and invite them to measure the change themselves with a Ph meter. Watch them blanch, then point offstage, shouting "squirrel!)

Other films sponsored by FiRe include some we sampled about young heroin addicts, one about the poisons spread by algae blooms, of the sort spreading off the Texas Gulf Coast, and one about egg donors. Some of the films are available on the FiRe Films channel. Ideally, subscribe, or get your company to do a corporate membership.
== Remember to keep hope! ==

Again: “Offering a much-needed sign that human actions can be effective against climate change, new data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows that global CO2 emissions largely remained static in 2016. All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels.” - reports an article on Futurism.

Of course, even static emission levels mean that massive amounts of CO2 are being dumped into the atmosphere annually; more than 35 billion tons were released in 2016 alone. This CO2 is responsible for warmer ocean and air temperatures, plus more extreme, damaging weather, from droughts to hurricanes. Moreover, other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere—particularly methane, from agriculture and the oil and gas industries—rose by 1 percent in 2016. 
The good news: the Koch brothers’ sunk investments in coal are doomed to well-deserved worthlessness. Against the resistance of troglodytes, solar and wind and storage are taking off at rates never imagined even by optimists.
The bad news? Starting with Ronald Reagan tossing solar panels off the White House roof, then canceling Jimmy Carter’s energy research programs, the trogs managed to profit by delaying this day, perhaps by a crucial decade. Indeed, some deem or recent progress to be too late. At any moment, if the arctic seas and tundra “blurp” their methane, we may fall into a catastrophic tipping point. And even if we evade that calamity, there will be harsh times, before the climate finally stabilizes.  Someday we may get a billion climate refugees...

But let us celebrate tentatively. London School of Economics climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern told The Guardian: “All countries have to accelerate their emissions reductions if the Paris goals are to be met. (But) we can now see clearly that the transition to a low-carbon economy is at the heart of the story of poverty reduction and of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Collapsing Empire Out in Paperback Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/02/2018 - 09:39
Well, here’s a nice way to start the new year: The mass market paperback version of The Collapsing Empire is out today in the US and Canada, available at your local indie and chain bookstores as well as through your favorite online retailers. If you’ve got gift cards or certificates to burn, this is a […]

Hey, Scalzi, Got Any New Year’s Resolutions?

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:14
I’m so glad you asked! Yes, I have a few. In no particular order, these are the things I’m going to try doing here in 2018. 1. Better diet and exercise. I’m up above 190 pounds, which is not great on my particular frame, and a good general description for me in 2017 was tired. […]

Sunset, 12/31/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 18:39
The last sunset of 2017, accessorized with a light pillar (made from sunlight reflecting off ice crystals in the air). Not a bad way to see out the year. Catch you on the other side, folks.

Don’t Live For Your Obituary is Out!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 12/31/2017 - 11:18
Let’s end 2017 on a high note, shall we: Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my collection of essays about the writing life, is now out, and available both in (increasingly hard to find so hurry if you want it) signed, limited edition hardcover, and (not at all difficult to find!) eBook. The hardcover, as it […]

The pattern: from Jim Crow to Smog, Tobacco, Ozone, Leaded Gas... and now...

Contrary Brin - Sat, 12/30/2017 - 19:22
First: I am told I should announce: “Just so you know: there are no 3rd party ads on my site. No guest posts. No one can buy a slot or a referral. I try always to attribute quotations, especially lengthy excerpts. And yes, I write this much. Phew.”
Meanwhile... alas... there is so much that's "political" that mass media doesn't cover well. That's why you come here, right?

== Step back and see the "always wrong" obstructionist pattern ==
In 1987, 197 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to stop releasing chemicals that were eating away at our planet’s ozone layer. And now, in a rare scientific triumph, the hole in the ozone layer has just about returned to the size it was at the time of the protocol’s signing: at its peak size in September, NASA reported that the hole was about 7.6 million square miles wide, the smallest it has been at peak since 1988.
As I pointed out, in EARTH (1989), we are capable of seeing problems, appraising them with intelligence and science, negotiating a mix of priorities, and then solving them. Contrary to the dogma of gloom spread today by the far-left and the entire-right.
Alas, this sapience is most often blocked by dogmatists and cheaters. As Jared Diamond reveals in his book COLLAPSE, a majority of past cultures hewed to rigid “traditional” hierarchies (most often feudal or theocratic) that made them brittle, unable to adapt to changing times. The great historian, Arnold Toynbee, surveyed hundreds of historical cultures and found that those with resilience were the ones who continued to invest both confidence and resources in their “creative minorities.”
We have plenty of examples in both directions. The same portions of society - in some cases the same people - who tried to block desegregation of the U.S. military, based on lies, then the ending of Jim Crow, also shouted “Cars don’t cause smog!” then “”Tobacco is good for you!” then "dumping in streams and lakes is harmless!" then "Who needs oil well regulations?" and “the so-called Ozone collapse is a myth and those wanting to do something about it are commies who aim to destroy market capitalism!”

Let's zero in on one of those --

== Perfecting the methodology of delay-obstruction and outright murder ==

More than half a century ago, American media was saturated with tobacco advertising. Cigarettes were the most advertised product on TV and tobacco companies sponsored hundreds of shows. Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend - forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. See Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes.
This is about more than Tobacco. The villainous shills who fought, obfuscated and delayed regulations to remove lead from gas and paint killed hundreds of thousands and were directly responsible for extending America’s worst era of crime. The very same ad agencies and law firms howled “hoax!” at scientific proof that cars caused smog, or that dumping into waterways caused illnesses, with lethal results. They got their biggest contracts and refined their methods delaying any action about the tobacco plague.

Sometimes they fail quicker than others. The very same ad agencies and law firms used the same methods to delay action on the Ozone Hole, but this time humanity acted swiftly. Thirty years ago, the world signed that Montreal Protocol. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) credits that agreement with for preventing an estimated 280 million additional cases of skin cancer, 45 million cataracts, and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths between its signing in 1987 and the year 2050. Without the Montreal Protocol, the planet would have been about 4 degrees warmer by 2050 (resulting in more extreme weather events like droughts, floods and hurricanes).
In all of those cases, it wasn’t so much “liberalism” that proved right, as that liberals paid attention to the evidence presented by science, which clearly showed that something needed to be done. Elsewhere I talk about my own role in one of these struggles… to get the lead out of gasoline. The delaying tactics that we fought down then caused immense human tragedy, till smart, sapient legislation finally made the poison go went away. It resulted later in a steep plummet in the U.S. rate of crime. (New York now has its lowest rate since the 1950s.)
Today we have bald eagles again, because we limited DDT, and folks fish along sweet riverbanks in downtown Pittsburgh, and every species of whale still exists… all because we acted on warnings… and no communist hell descended. Again: no… communist… hell… descended. 
Though there was a plague of amnesia, as our rightist neighbors forget they were wrong about every single one of those things.

== Notice the perfected method... and perfect record being wrong ==

How many times must this happen before we see a relentless pattern? The same morons and cheaters forecast doom to the entire U.S. auto industry, if new efficiency standards were imposed, originally in the 1970s and upgraded in 2011. The actual result? Across the board improvement in our cars, which now have vastly higher quality in every category while actually dropping in price, compared to other costs of living, while saving consumers tens of billions at the pump.
Of course I’ve been dancing around the big one. Climate Change.  But we need to point out that the pattern is the same. The special interests and lobbyists and ad agencies are much the same and the messaging and delaying tactics.

After all of these examples, should the conservative position always be discredited?  Nonsense! Criticism makes us better and sometimes a conservative assertion proves correct!  

Take the greatest mistake of modern liberalism, which hurt the movement grievously and helped restart the confederacy across America, the insanity called desegregation by forced school busing. A lefty “innovation” of pyrotechnic stupidity in which it was the “reformers” who stubbornly ignored every bit of evidence that their position was pigheaded and wrong. Elsewhere I criticize some other liberal policies such as basing legal immigration on family reunions. Sounds nice. In fact it's evil. But none of these exceptions fit a relentless pattern!

As you've seen, the relentless return of US conservatism to hatefully anti-science error always turns out to have been bought and paid for by cynical oligarchs. Manipulators who are never brought into account for the countless lives their delaying tactics wrecked.
No, it is the process of denialism itself that merits our contempt and hatred. When conservatives stop this lunatic-dogmatic war on science and every other fact profession, then yes, I am sure they will have something to contribute to the national negotiations toward a better future. 

But that will entail jettisoning... well... start with Clear Channel ravers. And Fox.

== Will the bubbles pop? ==
“The US stock market as a percentage of GDP is now far bigger than it was at the housing bubble’s peak, and it’s rapidly approaching the dot-com bubble peak. That ought to make us a little nervous as we watch the Dow hit new all-time highs.” Says John Mauldin.  I’m not saying it will pop tomorrow… nor does John. But just look at the chart. And note it was a month ago. The bubble is bigger now.

== The times demand it ==

Grad Students Would Be Hit By Massive Tax Hike Under House GOP Plan. The war on all fact professions - not just science - is thus made utterly explicit. Use stuff like this. Go after your uncle. Your obstinate friend. Above all, your aunt who doesn't dare speak when "he" is around, but who has a vote. As for student debt, ask if they have any justification for the Republican policy that student debts can never  be refinanced?
And yet. Can we try to be fair? Mocking Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife for posing with the first sheet of dollar bills with his signature on it? Seriously?  Reflexive lefty twits! Choose… your… battles! There’s plenty to hate about these confederate plantation-lords. Control your rage and aim it at the unbearable real offense, not harmless and natural stuff. You are supposed to be the sapient ones. All you accomplished, by shrieking at this, is making it harder to attract conservative defectors.
In a book entitled “America Against America,” based on his travels in the U.S., Wang Huning, a top Chinese communist party ideologist just elevated to the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo that rules the Middle Kingdom, “compares American democracy and elections to shareholders in a corporation. In theory, he observes, all shareholders have a say; in reality, minority shareholders control the company.”
Following China’s Confucian tradition, [Wang] also calls for moral education to raise the moral standards of the whole society and especially of officials who he believes must ‘internalize’ ethical behavior.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Daisy, 2007 – 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 12/30/2017 - 13:27
In 2010 our dog Kodi died. Krissy was pretty wrecked about it, and decided that it would be a while before we got a new dog. That lasted a couple of months, until she was somehow cruising a pet adoption site and saw the picture of a two-year-old half labrador, half mastiff named “Daisy.” She immediately […]

New Books and ARCs 12/29/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/29/2017 - 16:55
Here it is, the final stack of new books and ARCs for 2017. See anything here you’d like to take into the new year with you? Tell us in the comments!

2017 Recap + What’s On Tap For 2018

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/29/2017 - 10:29
Sure, 2017 was an unmitigated shitshow in a general sense here in the US and in lots of other parts of the world — but how was it for me? Well, in fact, it was pretty good. In no particular order: 1. The Collapsing Empire came out to great reviews and sales, hit a bunch […]

Sunsets, 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/28/2017 - 18:44
First, here’s tonight’s: And a few others from 2017: Good job, sky! A quality year for sunsets to be sure.

2017 Top Ten Whatever Posts + Social Media Stats

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/28/2017 - 08:22
It was an interesting year on Whatever, in terms of visitorship. As I noted in early July, visitorship to Whatever — as in people actually clicking through to the front page of the site — has undergone a collapse this year. I speculated as to why at the link, so if you’re interested in that, […]

Things can get worse...

Contrary Brin - Wed, 12/27/2017 - 15:49
==  It can get lots worse than Trump ==
God's Plan for Mike Pence: This Atlantic article reminds us who and what is waiting on the wings, if Donald Trump leaves the scene - voluntarily or not. 

“Because God works in mysterious ways (or, at the very least, has a postmodern sense of humor), it was Donald J. Trump—gracer of Playboy covers, delighter of shock jocks, collector of mistresses—who descended from the mountaintop in the summer of 2016, GOP presidential nomination in hand, offering salvation to both Pence and the religious right. The question of whether they should wed themselves to such a man was not without its theological considerations. But after eight years of Barack Obama and a string of disorienting political defeats, conservative Christians were in retreat and out of options. So they placed their faith in Trump—and then, incredibly, he won.”
“Pence has so far showed absolute deference to the president—and as a result he has become one of the most influential figures in the White House, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities and an unprecedented level of autonomy. But for all his aw-shucks modesty, Pence is a man who believes heaven and Earth have conspired to place him a heartbeat—or an impeachment vote—away from the presidency.”
I have elsewhere explained why all this talk of Impeach Trump is positively loony. Trump is a known quantity who shoots himself in the foot, daily. Almost every grownup in the civil service, courts, military and intelligence services are alerted to the madness, if not horrified and ready to heroically throw themselves under a bus in order to cancel anything too crazy.
But read here what’s waiting in the wings. Picture the conservative-by-personality officers in the Army and FBI etc, overcome with relief when the soft-spoken Pence moves in, a relief he would exploit with pre-planned care. Replacing the Trump White House, which leaks like a sieve, would be an utterly disciplined and tight ship of Dominionists eager to end the world and bring on every horror described in the Book of Revelation. 

(They are quite open about wanting this... an end to all democracy, diversity, tolerance, ambition, competition, cooperation, endeavor... an end to all children... and an end to the United States of America, amid fire and hell for most of its citizens. This is what they openly avow that they seek. Ponder that. And ponder The Button.)
I go through a dozen reasons why this man would be ten times as dangerous as Trump. You Americans have fallen for so many confederate traps, already. When will you start being canny, assessing the situation calmly, and acting for the long term. Like a Grant. Like a Lincoln? 
== Can it get any more blatant? ==
Trump’s nominee to run the Census  is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.” The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.
Monsters and traitors.  Worse than that. Blatant confederates.
Your answer to mad uncles who cite the recent stock market rise as “the Trump Effect”: People who bought in at the inauguration of Obama in 2009 made a 300%+ killing. Maybe then this is just the historical trend that the economy of the first year of an administration is credited to the predecessor.
How long has he been an agent of – or at least a target for recruitment by – the Kremlin? Have a look how far back. Now combine that with the reasoning I lay forth here: that by far the favorite recruitment tactic of intelligence agencies is not bribery or ideology… but blackmail.
Values? Shall we try values? If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception.  Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals. 
Let’s dive in, according to this article:
“Last year, Bible-believing Louisiana had the highest murder rate in the country. Moore’s Alabama came in third. Prayer-drenched Mississippi had the sixth-worst. You’re much safer when surrounded by skeptics. 

"The irreligious state of Massachusetts had the fifth-lowest murder rate, with only 17 percent as many homicides per capita as Louisiana. Godless New Hampshire and Maine had the nation’s lowest murder rates.
“Of the 10 least religious states, none is among the 10 most dangerous. Of the 10 most religious states, only Utah is among the 10 that are least hospitable to homicide.

“God-fearing places also don’t have a stellar record of upholding the family. The divorce rate is 50 percent higher in Alabama than in Massachusetts — which, by the way, was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Hampshire and Mississippi, at opposite ends of the religiosity spectrum, are virtually identical in the propensity for marital dissolution.”

Then this: President Trump retweeted, quoted and highly touted a right wing site called “Britain First”… that relished the attention. Then the group tried frantically to scrub tons of pro-Putin propaganda on their board lest anyone get the right idea about the links between "conservatives" and Kremlin.
== Are you SURE Halloween is over? ==
Here are scary items:
* Johns Hopkins psychologist John Gartner suggests an “80 percent chance” that Trump will push the nuclear button.
*Are you reassured, then, that the top U.S. nuclear commander told a security conference Saturday that he would not execute a nuclear launch ordered by President Trump if he considered the order to be “illegal?”
* Well, I have repeatedly said we depend utterly upon the sanity and maturity of the U.S. military Officer Corps… and the dems should be recruiting thousands of retired officers to run for every red-district office.
* Still, there is a way to safety that’s short of impeachment and more reliable than officers hinting they would disobey “illegal orders,” and it might even get passed by a Republican Congress. It is veto-proof and calming and entirely plausible. See it here.
* Conservative intellectuals have led the way in denouncing Donald Trump as not a "true conservative." And yes, a conclave of residually-same conservatives might yet gather to salvage something decent and American from the ashes of their movement. But this article - and the book The Reactionary Mind - attacks the very idea that Trump is anything but what he seems. A factotum of aristocracy and the far-right.
* And this article by a Christian minister asks: “Christians have traditionally rejected the worship of money, sex and power. Do we still?” A year into Trump's presidency, Christians are facing a spiritual quandary.
“Meanwhile, in the absence of a clearly-articulated foreign policy vision from the administration, The Economist—hardly a bastion of left-wing politics—has taken a stab at trying to characterize the Trump Doctrine. Their take: "America's foreign policy: embrace thugs, dictators and strongmen." They note the President's friendly relationship with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and others, not to mention his disdain for refugees, immigrants, and the like. While the magazine is no fan of Barack Obama's foreign policy, he seems like Nixon or Talleyrand or Metternich next to Trump.”
And yet, I have repeatedly told you that there is much hope to be found in the members of the United States Military Officer Corps. Now there’s this: “Sixteen of the nation’s top retired military commanders are urging Congress to pass gun control legislation, arguing that there are many steps that can be taken to curb gun deaths that do not violate the Second Amendment.”
 == Wikileaks and accountability ==
There are times when I’d rather not be right. Going back to the beginning, I have always had mixed feelings about WikiLeaks… approving of the general concept and trend toward transparency/accountability, while instinctively suspicious toward a rising aroma of hypocrisy and political bias favoring the stinkiest parts of our modern world. Do read this article! Now we know that:
“In Twitter direct messages during the last throes of the US election campaign, released over the past week, WikiLeaks, which US intelligence has deemed a tool of Russian intelligence, attempted to woo Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, with offers of secret collusion.”
 “The radical libertarians and the autocrats are allied by virtue of sharing an enemy which is the mainstream, soft, establishment, liberal politics,” said Jamie Bartlett, the director of the centre for the analysis of social media at the Demos thinktank. “Most early, hardline cryptographers who were part of this movement in the 1990s considered that democracy and liberty were not really compatible. Like most radical libertarians – as Assange was – the principal enemy was the soft democrats who were imposing the will of the majority on the minority and who didn’t really believe in genuine, absolute freedom.”
The Guardian article goes on to show an extensive network of “libertarians” whose collusion with the Kremlin, as well as other despotic or proto-feudal factions, has been getting ever more blatant and smelly.  Only… note my use of quotation marks around “libertarians”! Alas, this reporter - and almost every other smart observer - is falling for a longstanding trap. One with devastating consequences, in its cleverness.
Think it through. The nightmare of the right is that ten million Americans with libertarian, pro-market enterprise leanings will someday realize that there are no reasons to keep thinking of the Republican Party as “less-terrible” than Democrats.  

The standard narrative is that “liberals like personal freedom” and “conservatives fight for economic freedom.” And as long as the incantation of false equivalence can be maintained, the oligarchs know that most “libertarians” will remain prone to accepting Koch-Murdoch propaganda, hold their noses and vote GOP.
Never mind that in fact market economics are savagely repressed by almost every Republican priority or action, and every single active metric of US national health - especially entrepreneurship, small business, innovation and so - does better across the span of democratic administrations than republican ones. That’s every single such metric.   See: Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?
 Some libertarians are re-awakening to the fact that their founder - Adam Smith - emphasized the creative power of competition - and not the religious sanctity of property, which he denounced as the worst enemy (if too concentrated) of open-fair competition. Some libertarians have glanced at human history and 6000 years during which the destroyers of flat-fair-creative competition were oligarchs and owner-cheater lords, and not “government bureaucrats."
Yes, generalizations about libertarians come easily, with facile “obviousness.” But attacking them only drives them away from the light, back into Murdoch-Koch arms. 
Try parsing things more clearly. Libertarians who want both freedom and democracy - as well as a vibrant entrepreneurial economy - should be lured into conversation.  

Those who declare that “democracy and freedom are incompatible” are members of the ancient enemy of both, denounced by Smith. They are rushing to throw themselves at the feet of an oligarchy that has only changed a few symbols since King George. They don’t deserve the name “libertarian.” 

== From 9/11 to 11/9  ==
And finally a lesser but still worrisome sickness of the left

From 9/11 to 11/9 (the election of President Donald Trump): A short history of World War IV Philosopher Jean Baudrillard predicted this 15 years ago: The Western world is waging a long war — against itself.
The 9/11 - 11/9 palindrome is reminiscent of my own rumination that each century's theme becomes apparent about a decade and a half into it.
Back to the article: "Were the shocking attacks of September 2001 and the shocking election result of November 2016 — 9/11 and 11/9, the palindrome that defines our age — fluke occurrences amid the general upward trajectory of Western civilization? Or do they represent, as Baudrillard argued in the first instance, Western civilization’s innate yearning toward its own destruction?"
Goodie. I am reassured. The title sounded sensibly curious and I wondered... is this actual common sense coming from the postmodernist clique? Then I saw the crap about "Western civilization’s innate yearning toward its own destruction?" And I am reinforced in my hatred of these guys, despite even when they seem partly correct.
The "West" is more dynamic and modernist and creative than ever! The problem isn't hatred of "itself." The problem is that we are welded at the hip to a minority of fellow citizens who can only be called "confederate. About a third of these neighbors -- in the U.S. and Europe -- are congenitally terrified of modernity and our willingness to confidently confront change. In America, it is the very same "civil war" that goes back - in phases - to 1778.
These are different parties! The "West" is not so much self-hating as saddled with idiot cousins who are violently hostile to the enlightenment, to science, to all fact-using professions, and to the very thought of incremental progress.
We must not return their hate -- every time the Union defeated a fever of confederate madness, we moved to "charity for all and malice toward none." 

But this will entail first prying our cousins' hands from around our throats and the throat of the Republic. Postmodernist polysyllabic lefty flakes are no help at all.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

I Present To You Our Big Holiday Purchase

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/27/2017 - 12:16
It’s a wall-mounted heater for our garage. Exciting! Well, okay, not exciting. But it means that no matter the weather (and right now it’s a blistering four degrees Fahrenheit outside), the garage is always above freezing; we run the heater so the overall garage temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees. This means that our […]

2017 Portraiture (Non-Related Edition)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/26/2017 - 14:18
I took a lot of photos this year, including pictures of friends at various events I was at. Here are some of the best of those.

Merry Catmas!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/25/2017 - 13:44
Hope you’re having a wonderful day. 
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